Communications through a community organizing lens

Session: How to do Online Communications as an Organizer At Aspiration, we strive to apply community organizing principles to all the work we do. In practice, this means the principles that guide our greater mission should be embedded into internal organizational processes. For example: how does one approach website design or event facilitation with a frame of inclusion and collaboration? In the case of online communications: how can the principles that guide face-to-face organizing be applied to the digital realm?

At the Allied Media Conference in June, we were given space to host a workshop that explored these ideas. Titled "How to do Online Communications as an Organizer", this session asked participants to think about how their on-the-ground experiences could be applied to communications tactics. We shared some planning templates (Publishing Matrix!) in the process, but ultimately, participants led the exploration and found their own ways to apply their knowledge.

Community organizing mind map

Lessons learned for community organizing

We started off the workshop by asking participants to share their organizing stories with one another. We wanted to first become grounded in the roots of all social change work—the face-to-face dynamics—before diving into the technology processes. The outcome of this exchange was simple: write down one "Do" and one "Don't" that has emerged from organizing experience. We revisited this wall of sticky notes later.

Check out curated community organizing tips.

Visualizing audience

Next, we entered the headspace of a campaigner. We asked people to briefly summarize the goal of their communications, campaign, or organizing efforts. Underneath that on the same sheet of paper, we then listed our audiences. Who do you need to reach to be successful? What are they like? This tends to be an intuitive process during real-life interactions; but online, the human side can become abstracted. We try to visualize the person clearly before going any further into communicating with them.

Creating a workflow

If you've known us for a bit, then you know how we feel about the Publishing Matrix. We eat it for breakfast. We see it as a valuable template for planning out communications in a way that is transparent to possible collaborators, sustainable over time, and holds us accountable to reaching audiences where they're at. Participants joined us in constructing their own. To do this, we first laid out all of our channels. These could be online (e.g., social media, website) or offline (e.g., fliers, community meetings). We then laid out content types, which can be any form of message (e.g., invitation, thank-you card, image). Then it was just a matter of filling out the grid.

You can download Publishing Matrix resources here.

Getting back to the roots

So, we explored audiences, documented channels, and took an inventory of all content types. Time to pull out the megaphone, yeah? Not quite. Our favorite part of this session was tying it all together with the first activity. The question was: How do you apply your Do's and Don'ts to a particular row/column of the Publishing Matrix? Our hope was that participants walked away with a template for planning out communications, but grounded it in their own principles of community organizing in respect to their own efforts.

The process of grounding communications in community organizing values will need different tactics and technologies depending on one's goals and context. While we don't know it all, we are always open to exploring possibilities, or connecting you to someone who will help guide you.

Many thanks to all the participants who rocked the session and enthusiastically shared their stories and interests, as well as the Allied Media Conference organizers for providing us with space. Our inboxes and Twitter are always open if you want to connect.